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New York City Fire Escape Collapse Accidents Are an Injury Risk for Renters

Most New Yorkers rent apartments, many in old, poorly maintained buildings that may or may not be completely up to code.  But it isn’t just maintenance issues inside the building that should concern tenants.  Fire escape collapses are uncommon, but when they do occur, the risk of injury or wrongful death is great.  If you’re a renter in New York City, you could be living with the same hazard.

Victim Critically Injured After Fire Escape Collapses in Prospect Lefferts Gardens

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Like most cities, New York’s real estate is dominated by apartment buildings.  Many were constructed decades or centuries ago, which means their structural components need especially careful maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.

Unfortunately, all too many landlords take advantage of their tenants by providing the absolute bare minimum level of service.  In other cases, shoddy construction or building materials create hazards from the outset.  In either situation, there can be devastating results for the tenants or their guests.

In March, a 23-year-old male was hospitalized for serious injuries after the fourth-floor fire escape he was standing on gave way, sending him plummeting to the ground below.  The collapse occurred at an apartment building in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens neighborhood around 11:30 P.M. on the evening of March 18.

“I heard what sounded like something hitting the fire escape.  It was like the sound of a big metal bang,” said neighbor Lauren Drake.  “I could hear the fire escape shaking afterwards.”

The man who fell was not a resident, but was visiting a friend who lived in the building where the accident occurred.  According to the tenant’s sister, who witnessed the accident but did not wish to be identified, the victim was leaning on the fire escape’s railing when it suddenly buckled, causing him to slip and fall toward the ground.  The iron railing that gave way was approximately four feet long.

“He’s critical but stable,” said the unidentified witness.  But she added, “He hasn’t woken up yet so they don’t know if he’s going to be okay.”

“He’s lucky,” said a police officer who arrived at the scene, referring to the fact that the victim happened to land on a patch of dirt.  Had the angle of his fall been slightly different, he would have struck the concrete sidewalk instead – likely with fatal results.

Paperwork for the building showed no record of structural problems or fire escape defects, but the NYPD requested investigators to conduct an inspection.  The Department of Buildings, which regulates construction codes and enforces compliance with safety laws, issued a violation for maintenance failures that led to the collapse of the fire escape.

Broadway Actor Killed in Bedford-Stuyvesant Fire Escape Slip and Fall Accident

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The collapse in Prospect Lefferts Gardens was a terrible accident.  But not every victim survives their fall.

Last year, 21-year-old actor Kyle Jean-Baptiste was a rising star on Broadway, having been the first African-American to play the role of Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables.”  But his career was cut tragically short in August 2015, just weeks before he was scheduled to join the cast of “The Color Purple,” when Jean-Baptiste accidentally plunged from a fourth-floor fire escape in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

“This tragedy occurred because not enough attention is given to the dangers inherent in sitting on fire escapes,” said William B. Helmreich, a professor of sociology at City College.

In 1968, New York City updated its construction code to prohibit fire escapes on new buildings, phasing them out in favor of interior escape stairwells and automated sprinkler systems.  But countless buildings from the early part of the twentieth century still retain the distinctive metal stairs that have come to be so iconic of New York City architecture.  Tenants frequently use them to smoke, talk on the phone, get some fresh air, or simply snag a moment of privacy, unaware they could be just seconds from disaster.  After all, no one expected the collapse in Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and the building’s records showed no prior history of known maintenance violations.

“I’m surprised that this happened,” said Richard Witt, a resident of the building where the fall occurred.

The sister who witnessed the victim’s fall also described the accident as a surprise, adding, “Nobody’s ever had this problem there.”

Brooklyn Personal Injury Attorneys Representing Tenants Against Negligent Landlords

Fire escape hazards aren’t always obvious, even to those they most endanger.  However, tenants in New York City have protected legal rights.  Landlords are responsible for ensuring their properties are structurally sound, and may be liable if a tenant is injured due to negligent maintenance or other violations.

If you or one of your family members was injured in their apartment building due to a code violation, you may be able to get compensated for your medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other damages.  The Bedford-Stuyvesant personal injury lawyers of Sullivan & Galleshaw have more than 30 years of combined experience advocating for injured tenants and helping accident victims pursue compensation.  To find out if you could have a premises liability claim in a free and confidential legal consultation, call our law offices at (718) 843-0300.


Over our many years practicing personal injury law, our highly experienced legal team has earned a reputation for excellence. Our attorneys have appeared on major media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC . Our firm’s legal accomplishments have been profiled by the New York Law Journal, the Los Angeles Times, ESPN, and the Associated Press. We have won multiple verdicts in excess of $1 million, making us proud members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious organization which admits fewer than 1% of all attorneys in the United States. We were named Super Lawyers in 2011, and enjoy a perfect 10/10 Superb rating on national attorney database Avvo.

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